When we grow from childhood to adulthood, our levels of observation change. In our life's journey, all of us at some point have wondered, "Where did all the ants go? I used to see them everywhere!"
I think children are more aware of nature than adults, especially the details of nature; because everything is so new to them, they don't take anything for granted. We get used to the world around us and forget how fascinating ants are when seen by "new eyes".
I have a friend who was looking forward to taking her grandson to see the exotic animals at the zoo and was rather irritated when all the child wanted to look at was the sparrows on the ground. Certain creatures like ants, bees, and especially birds, leave strong impressions on children, eventually becoming an important part of their childhood. The experience of these creatures mark time and place in our memories.
If I want to travel back in time, all I have to do is recall the sound of whippoorwill, whippoorwill! and right away, it's a full moon on a hot summer night, and I'm back in the Ozarks by a stream, looking forward to a vacation with my parents.
For ten years, I volunteered in Santa Barbara at a local animal rescue group. During that time, I helped rehabilitate injured or orphaned birds and then returned them to the wild. I had some great experiences. I hand-fed two hummingbird babies with an eye dropper then, when they were old enough, released them in my yard. I nursed a baby heron back to health by holding it's beak wide open with one hand and dropping a dozen goldfish down it's throat with the other. Baby bluejays, mockingbirds, pigeons, numerous songbirds, a pellican, and a burrowing owl visited my home -- then returned to theirs.
During this period, while working with the bird rescue group, I discovered that throughout the ages poets, scholars, and just plain old ordinary folks have assigned words to the sounds that birds make. These words are found in birdwatching manuals and are used to help identify birds in the wild.
The rhythm, drama and repetition of these sounds, combined with my memories of birdsong as a soundtrack to my childhood, inspired me to write the text for my new book, Birdsong, illustrated by Robert Florczak.
Writing the book took several years of detailed research. I studied a wide variety of North American birds. The example to the right is only one page -- there are stacks of others. I researched and cross-referenced the food they ate, where they lived, the sounds they make, their habits, migrations and so forth. I also wanted the book to be fairly national in scope so that wherever children lived in the United States, they would be able to identify several species.